Spiritual and moral lessons feature prominently in Colegrove’s debut fantasy, a playful coming-of-age adventure.
With the murky explanation that he needed more special training than could be provided in their small village, 11-year-old Rol’s family traveled a great distance to leave him with his uncle A. Loysius DaTerrin. Rol is 14 when the story opens and, after some initial confusion regarding his role, doesn’t mind life as his uncle’s acolyte. Ably handling the pressure of constant one-on-one training, he falls asleep “dreaming of great adventures in which he played the lead role.” DaTerrin’s lessons often resemble Socratic questioning: why we pray (not just to ask for favor but to express gratitude), the importance of playing, and the weaknesses that belie deception. The latter is learned when master and student expose a fake wizard passing through town. Sorcery isn’t real in this world, though there are orchards of bluish-orange fruit that lose flavor when exposed to the open air; hairy, man-sized lizards; and gnomelike grumblegoblins. There’s also a recognizably Christian tone, with frequent references to God and his creation. On a reflective hike amid a lesson about prayer, the two are besieged by grumblegoblins, who escape with DaTerrin. Rol is left alone, far from home, though a mysterious map leads, he suspects, to his parents’ home. “Be thankful. Be good. Be who you are meant to be,” DaTerrin had told him. Rol chooses the more challenging path the map offers and, in doing so, is met with danger, intellectual trials, and unexpected friends who become traveling companions. Putting his lessons to practice, Rol acquires new skills and shows his mettle, as the true purpose of his training and difficult journey is revealed only in the final paragraphs. Though some plot elements seem clipped while others are overdrawn, the somewhat predictable adventure is full of whimsy and driven by a premise that, for the most part, delivers.
An entertaining rookie offering perhaps enjoyed by religiously and morally curious young adults.